A shrug can be just a shrug


My son frequently reminds me that he is almost a teenager.

He'll be in seventh grade this fall, he's already in the teen group at church, and the other boys on sports teams he's facing seem to get bigger with every game.

When I'm doing laundry, I can't tell the difference between his socks and his father's. Their shoe sizes are about the same.

Wasn't it just yesterday that I was having my little boy fitted for a white pair of Stride Rites with bells on them?


It's not that I'm lamenting my son's growing up. I've enjoyed every stage so far, and I plan to enjoy every minute to come.

It's just that parenting older children is a little different from parenting younger children.

As our children age, we parents sometimes have to step back and stay in the shadows, just in case we're needed.

I recently experienced this firsthand.

Another adult was berating my son, and I overheard the entire conversation.

At first, my Mama Bear instincts came out. I wanted to run to his defense.

But then I took a deep breath, listened and stayed where I was. What would he say in response? I've taught my children to respond respectfully to authority figures, even if they disagree with the person in charge.

I was very pleased by what I heard.

My son said nothing.

His response apparently had an effect on the other adult. The angry tone seemed to dissipate.

He handled the situation just like he should have. Perhaps he has been listening to all the things I've been trying to teach him over the years.

Later that day I had an opportunity to talk with him about the confrontation.

I asked him what it was about.

He said the other adult thought he was being disrespectful because he shrugged his shoulders.

"Why did you shrug your shoulders?" I asked.

His shoulders went up and then down.

"I don't know," he said.

I knew the answer without hearing it from him. It's a nervous habit. Whenever he feels threatened or when he doesn't know an answer, he shrugs his shoulders. His body language wasn't saying, "I don't care."

I had to smile. Some adults think they have kids figured out when in reality they don't have a clue.

In order to understand a child, adults have to be willing to spend time getting to know that child.

If they don't, misperceptions are rampant. (Doesn't this principle apply to all relationships, though? Many conflicts arise because one person misunderstands another's intentions.)

However, perception is important. If adults perceive misbehavior in a child, they should have the courage to correct it.

This was the point I tried to make with my son: "Even though you don't mean any disrespect when you shrug your shoulders, some adults may perceive that you don't care about what they are saying. Perhaps you need to work on breaking that habit," I suggested.

He agreed that it was something he had to work on.

Then I asked him if he thought the other adult was being too harsh on him.

He said he thought the other adult was overreacting.

I agreed with him.

Then I told him that often when people overreact, their response has little to do with the target of their angry outburst.

Perhaps they are stressed about something totally unrelated to the situation. Maybe what you just did is a pet peeve of theirs.

A calm response can diffuse most tense situations.

That's a lesson every teen (or preteen) should learn.

It's certainly nothing to shrug your shoulders at.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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